Headlines (Page 33)

See What Happens When You Morph All of These Photos of ‘Jesus’ Into One Composite Image

Bluefield

Speculation about Jesus’ physical appearance is nothing new, with contemporary perceptions typically being restricted to depictions of Christ that are presented in the art and pop culture realms — illustrations that are frequently critiqued for being patently inaccurate.

That in mind, the Department of Art and Design at Bluefield College, a Christian, liberal arts school in Bluefield, Virginia, recently decided to create a composite image of 20 different actors who have played Jesus on the big screen.

“The origin of the idea is that with Christmas coming up, several of these movies will be played for the holiday season and it’s interesting to see how Jesus has been portrayed in Hollywood over time,” Ryan Taylor, who is helping promote the project, told TheBlaze. “So in a sense, it is a media studies, art and design, and holiday project all in one.”

Here’s what the college’s Jesus composite looks like:

Bluefield College

The image combines photos of the following actors: Brian Deacon, Chris Sarandon, Christian Bale, Diogo Morgado, Enrique Irazoqui, Ewan McGregor, Haaz Sleiman, Halvard Hoff, HB Warner, Henry Ian Cusick, Jeffrey Hunter, Jeremy Sisto, Jim Caviezel, John K Steel, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Max von Sydow, Robert Powell, Ted Neeley, Will Ferrell and Willem Dafoe. You can see all of the images here.

But the Department of Art and Design didn’t stop with the composite image of Christ, going on to also create a separate photo that combines photos of 21 notable actors who played Satan.

“Originally, they were just going to do Jesus, but decided that it would be interesting to do the [devil] as well, considering there have been several portrayals of him in film,” Taylor said.

See the devilish composite below:

Bluefield College Bluefield College

The actors included are: Al Pacino, Anton Lavey, Bruce Payne, Clarence Williams, Claude Rains, David Warner, Elizabeth Hurley, Gabriel Byrne, George Burns, Harvey Keitel, Jack Nicholson, Max von Sydow, Peter Cook, Peter Fonda, Peter Stormare, Robert De Niro, Rosalinda Celentano, Tom Waits, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Price and Walter Huston. See that composite come to life here.

You might have noticed that both George Burns and Max von Sydow played both Christ and Satan, landing the latter in both composites.

As for the picture of Jesus, Taylor said that the most surprising element is “how ‘unsurprising’ it is,” as “Jesus has been portrayed as very ‘European’ or ‘westernized,’ sometimes even having blonde hair and blue eyes.”

“The composite image shows that pretty clearly,” he said.

As TheBlaze previously reported, the debate over Christ’s physical appearance continues to forge on. Read about it here.

Follow the author of this story on Twitter and Facebook:

Follow @BillyHallowell

Watch Him Surprise New Yorkers by Bringing the ‘True Meaning of Christmas’ to Life

A photo of the live nativity

New Yorker Ron Cutlip believes that people are absolutely “thirsty and hungry for [the] true meaning of Christmas,” so he sets out each year to try and bring the gospel to life, hosting a surprise living nativity in the center of Manhattan.

“New York City is a busy place and it’s easy to lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas. I grew up in Olney, Maryland, which was a small town,” Cutlip, a golf course architect by trade, told TheBlaze. “We used to have a live nativity every year at one of the local churches. I have always carried that memory with me and wanted to share that experience with my new small town, New York City.”

A photo of the live nativity (YouTube)

Cutlip generally calls friends and strangers, alike, to a local park to come together and sing carols, while reenacting the traditional nativity.

This year was the first time that Cutlip — who has hosted the event for nine years — was permitted to host the “secret” nativity in Times Square, as he had repeatedly been denied a permit by New York City officials to do so.

“There were tons of excuses the city gave me with all of its political-correct ideas,” he said of the four previous rejections.

Regardless of the location, though, Cutlip believes that the nativity brings about great joy, helping to get people in the holiday spirit.

Individuals assemble for the live nativity inside New York City's Time Square Individuals assemble for the live nativity inside New York City’s Times Square (YouTube)

“New Yorkers are always busy. They carry burdens and stress,” Cutlip said. “After participating in the nativity, many have shared that it puts them in the Christmas spirit and they carry that feeling throughout the season.”

Watch the secret nativity unfold below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgvLeiiLL-4&w=640&h=360]

Cutlip said that his goal is to “spread the hope and joy we have in Christ and to share with people that Jesus can meet them on the streets where the live, where they work, where they play.”

He said that he simply wants to share that message in an incredibly simple way.

Follow the author of this story on Twitter and Facebook:

Follow @BillyHallowell

‘Lord, It’s All in Your Hands’: NFL Team Gives Undrafted Wide Receiver a Shot After Unconventional ‘Job Application’

Football player Joe Anderson was so determined to continue his NFL career that he showed up a few weeks ago outside of NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas — home of the Texans — and held a cardboard sign proclaiming that he’s not homeless, but is “starving for success.”

Anderson, a 27-year-old wide receiver, recently posted a picture of these antics, along with a message in which he explained his refusal to give up and his reliance upon God after being cut by the Bears following the 2013 season.

“Lord it’s all in your hands, all I know is that I believe it by faith and see it all happening even when it looks like a joke before the eyes of man!” he wrote. “I fill myself with humility and say let your Will be done and use me to allow others to believe in your power!!!!”

He continued, “I’m not looking at my situation with a worldly mindset and that’s what’s gonna seperate me my hunger can’t be matched my heart can’t be compared to.”

#NothingWillStopMe Lord it’s all in your hands, all I know is that I believe it by faith and see it all happening even when it looks like a joke before the eyes of man! I fill myself with humility and say let your Will be done and use me to allow others to believe in your power!!!! Im not looking at my situation with a worldly mindset and that’s what’s gonna seperate me my hunger can’t be matched my heart can’t be compared too, I’m outside the Houston Texans facility every morning, because I kno what type of gift God has blessed me with!!! A lot of people don’t really live out the meaning #WhateverItTakes they just sayin it!!! You gotta really live that junk if you say it and believe in yourself and trust in the Lord, and living it don’t just mean hold up a sign!! Oh there is much pain behind holding this sign an it’s not from bein doubted or the underdog, like how bad do you really want it?? Forget a publicity stunt Boyz is Really HUNGRY out hur dawg to the point if the coach wanna line up I’ll route him up too, to the point if it’s special teams an the REF get in the way I’ll hit him too!! It’s something flickering in my head everyday with much Humility and WILL power to go the extra mile when it come to believing in myself and proven all doubters wrongI’m not just chasing greatness for myself/family but for all the people that lack faith and wanna quit and don’t believe God still moves, DAWG if you gotta DREAM GO GET THAT!! Let ZERO What If’s stand in the way go to the grave on E, not off what someone told you you can’t do…Create and tell your testimony don’t be ashamed of it, do it all for the glory of the kingdom take yourself outta the picture I’m out here on FAITH, it’s bigger than just collecting a check to me straight up! The way I do what I do and why I do what I do isn’t just to score touchdowns and gain fame that’s far from the case I don’t need all that cause I’m already famous in spirit an you can’t get no famous than that, when I get my shot you’ll see what the Lord is truly about to do in my life and I pray wit all my heart it inspires you to never Give up.When your purpose means more than your situation God will give you favor #TAGandREPOST

A photo posted by Joe Anderson (@_joeanderson) on Nov 6, 2015 at 5:38am PST

Anderson went on to explain that he was outside of the Houston Texans stadium holding the sign, because he knows “what type of gift God has blessed” him with. But he said that his attempt to very publicly battle for an opportunity at NFL greatness is also rooted in an urge to inspire others.

“I’m not just chasing greatness for myself/family but for all the people that lack faith and wanna quit and don’t believe God still moves, DAWG if you gotta DREAM GO GET THAT!!” he continued. “Create and tell your testimony don’t be ashamed of it, do it all for the glory of the kingdom take yourself outta the picture I’m out here on FAITH, it’s bigger than just collecting a check to me straight up!”

Anderson’s wishes have apparently been granted, as he was signed to the New York Jets’ practice squad on Tuesday.

(H/T: KHOU-TV)

Follow the author of this story on Twitter and Facebook:

Follow @BillyHallowell

He Asked Christians if Violence in the Middle East Is a ‘Sign That the End Times Are Nearer.’ Here’s the Key Result That Truly Shocked Him.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The researcher behind a recently released study that found that the vast majority of evangelicals believe that violence across the Middle East “is a sign that the end times are nearer” told The Church Boys podcast that he was stunned by “how large of a majority believes in this.”

Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland and a fellow with the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, said that he wasn’t at all surprised to find a gap between evangelical Christians and non-evangelical Christians when it comes to agreement that violence is a sign that the end is drawing nearer.

But it was the large proportion of evangelicals — 79 percent — who agreed with this sentiment that truly surprised him; this compared to just 43 percent of non-evangelical Christians.

“[I was] not [surprised] by the gap so much, because I expected the evangelicals to focus on prophecy far more than traditional Christians. We’ve known that, that’s not a particular surprise,” Telhami said. “What surprises though, how large a majority of evangelicals believes in this, that this really is a sign and that something is going to happen in Israel, things are going to turn against Israel as you get closer to end times.”

Listen to Telhami describe the results below at the 42:00 mark:

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/238056596" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height='450' iframe="true" /]

He wondered whether this high proportion — which clearly indicates a widespread embrace of a literal belief in biblical prophecy — is elevated due to the news that has been coming out of the Middle East, along with the related fears that many have over terrorism.

Considering that he doesn’t have any historical material to compare the results to, Telhami said that he can’t be sure, though he plans to continue exploring the fascinating worldview.

One of the most unique facets of Telhami’s research was his quest to separate evangelicals and born-again Christians — two groups that he said some improperly assume are homogeneous in nature.

“Here is the interesting thing, in the information that we have, many of the surveys lumped the two together, born again [and] evangelicals, because people assume they’re very similar and people assume that also that helps with enhancing the size of the sample,” he said. “It turns out there [are] really important differences.”

Telhami continued, “Whereas almost everyone who says they’re evangelical, about 90 percent also say they’re born again Christians, the opposite is not true. Nearly half of those who say they’re born again Christians don’t consider themselves to be evangelicals.”

To point out the differences among these two groups, the researcher said that 75 percent of evangelicals are Republicans, though born-again Christians who do not count themselves as evangelical are actually more Democratic.

As for the massive embrace of the Republican Party among evangelicals, Telhami said that there’s an important consideration to make: that the view of evangelical Christians isn’t necessarily the “norm of the Republican Party.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

“If you … set aside the evangelical Republicans out of the Republican party, they constitute roughly 23 percent of the Republican party, those who say they’re evangelicals,” he said. “If you set them aside, then the rest of the Republican party on matters related to Israel and the Middle East is not different from the rest of the population.”

As TheBlaze previously reported, when it came to more specific details about the end times in Telhami’s study, titled, “American Attitudes Toward the Middle East and Israel,” 5 percent of Christians said that they believe the end times and the return of Christ would happen in their lifetime; 72 percent said that they were not sure if it would unfold soon or in a thousand years.

Find out more about Temhami’s research here.

Front page image via Shutterstock.com.

Follow the author of this story on Twitter and Facebook:

Follow @BillyHallowell

Texas Governor Shocks Atheists With Fierce Demand that Officials Remove Mock Nativity Display — and Here’s How They’re Reacting

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has enraged a national atheist group by ordering the removal of a mock nativity display inside the state capitol, with the leader of the activist group accusing him of acting both immorally and unconstitutionally.

Abbott, a Republican, took to Twitter on Tuesday to demand the removal of the display, which had been erected by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national atheist organization that is known for posting signs and displays that take aim at the traditional meaning of Christmas.

“Mocking the capitol nativity scene is offensive,” the governor wrote. “I demand removal of satirical ‘nativity scene’ from capitol.”

https://twitter.com/GregAbbott_TX/status/679389435239096320

According to the Texas Tribune, the “winter solstice” display — a cardboard cutout that featured the founding fathers, the Statue of Liberty and the Bill of Rights in a manger — was removed after Abbott’s official complaint, in which he dubbed the mock nativity a “juvenile parody.”

“It has come to my attention that State Preservation Board staff approved an application by the ‘Freedom From Religion Foundation’ to display an exhibit on the ground floor of the Capitol,” Abbott wrote in a Dec. 22 letter to the State Preservation Board. “This juvenile parody violates the Preservation Board’s regulations and should be removed immediately.”

He proceeded to explain point-by-point why he believes that the atheist display has no place inside the Texas state Capitol. Here’s more from Abbott’s letter:

First, far from promoting morals and the general welfare, the exhibit deliberately mocks Christians and Christianity. The Biblical scene of the newly born Jesus Christ lying in a manger in Bethlehem lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. Subjecting an image held sacred by millions of Texans to the Foundation’s tasteless sarcasm does nothing to promote morals and the general welfare. To the contrary, the Foundation’s spiteful message is intentionally designed to belittle and offend, which undermines rather than promotes any public purpose a display promoting the bill of rights might otherwise have had. The Board has allowed and should continue to allow diverse viewpoints to be expressed in Capitol displays. But it has no obligation to approve displays that purposefully mock the sincere religious beliefs of others.

So far, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is anything but elated over the governor’s successful call for the display’s removal.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the atheist group said that the display was reportedly removed this week, with co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor lambasting Abbott’s actions.

“Ironically, the very document that our display was honoring is what protects this form of expression,” she said. “Government officials cannot censor our speech because they disagree with our secular message.”

She continued, “It’s Abbott’s action that is immoral — and unconstitutional, not our display honoring the Bill of Rights.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation intends to take legal action to remedy the situation.

As TheBlaze previously reported, this is hardly the first time Abbott has defended the traditional Christmas nativity.

(H/T: Texas Tribune)

Follow the author of this story on Twitter and Facebook:

Follow @BillyHallowell

‘This Arrogant Man’: Saudi Bookstore Chain Pulls Donald Trump Books Over Muslim Remarks

A Saudi bookstore chain said it has removed copies of Donald Trump’s books off from its shelves after a blogger complained that Trump is “known for making comments offensive to Muslims and Islam.”

Jarir Bookstore, which Gulf News reported is one of Saudi Arabia’s largest book chains, posted on Twitter Tuesday, “We agree with you on your keenness. The books have been removed from the bookshop. We thank you for your remark.”

The decision to remove Trump’s book reflected the continued Saudi scorn for the GOP candidate following his call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S.

Gulf News reported that the bookstore’s decision to pull the Trump books came in response to a Twitter inquiry from blogger KSA12300 who posted the photo of a Trump book at Jarir.

مكتبة جرير
تبيع كتب #دونالد_ترامب
المسيئة للإسلام والمسلمين
رغم تحذيرنا لها
من عدم بيع مثل هذه الكتب
@JarirBookstore pic.twitter.com/XLYwNPbgzm

— قناة المجتمع السعودي (@ksa12300) December 20, 2015

Blogger KSA12300 wrote, “Jarir Bookstore is selling Donald Trumps’ books despite our warnings not to sell such books.”

Reuters reported that another Saudi also reached out to the company via Twitter and posted a photo of a shelf at the bookstore displaying the Arabic-language version of Trump’s book “Think Like a Champion.”

Blogger Abu Tariq wrote that Trump’s books shouldn’t be allowed in Saudi Arabia at all “until this arrogant man understands his true value,” Gulf News reported.

Saudi royal family member Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal earlier this month called Trump a “disgrace” to America and urged him to immediately step out of the race.

“Withdraw from the U.S. presidential race as you will never win,” he tweeted.

Bethlehem Rejects ‘Merry Christmas’ Sign

Credit: Shutterstock.com

The little town of Bethlehem, New York, has decided that there’s no room at the intersection this Christmas season for a “Merry Christmas” sign.

Credit: Shutterstock.com

The town traditionally has Christmas and Hanukkah displays at an intersection known as “Four Corners,” including a menorah and Christmas tree.

But this year, officials rejected a sign that says “Merry Christmas” — as well as a “Happy Hanukkah” sign — out of fear of violating the First Amendment, according to Albany’s Times Union newspaper.

A local resident offered to contribute a “Merry Christmas” sign, as she had done in the past, but a lawyer for the town told her that such a sign would violate the separation of church and state.

Lawyers with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm that represents religious liberty cases, wrote a letter to the town that such signs would not violate the Constitution.

“The irony is not lost on us that your Town’s name is Bethlehem,” ADF Legal Counsel Joseph La Rue wrote.

“No one should fear that saying ‘Merry Christmas’ on a sign like this will violate the Constitution. It does not,” La Rue continued. “The courts, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, have been clear that the government can erect Christmas signs and displays, including even Nativity scenes, without having to fear a constitutional violation.”

The local resident, Elena Marcelle, and ADF have asked the town to reconsider allowing the signs.

Celebrating Christmas ‘Excessively and Openly’ Could Lead to Five Years in Jail in This Muslim Country

Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah signs a book at the National War Memorial on March 26, 2013 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo: Hernie Othman-Pool/Getty Images)

Citizens of the oil-rich nation of Brunei could face up to five years in prison if they engage in public celebrations of Christmas, such as wearing Santa hats and sending holiday greetings, British and Australian media reported.

Britain’s Independent reported Tuesday that the country, where Islam is the official religion, introduced the Christmas ban last year over concerns that marking the Christian holiday “excessively and openly” could move Muslims away from their faith.

Under the directive, Christians are allowed to celebrate the holiday but only in private.

Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah signs a book at the National War Memorial on March 26, 2013, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Hernie Othman-Pool/Getty Images)

The Borneo Bulletin earlier this month reported on sermons by the nation’s imams warning Muslims that they are prohibited from imitating other religions.

“During Christmas celebrations, Muslims following that religion’s acts — such as using their religious symbols like cross, lighting candles, making Christmas trees and singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings, using signs praising the religion, putting up decorations or creating sounds and doing anything that amounts to respecting their religion — are against Islamic faith,” the Muslim leaders said.

The religious leaders reminded the Muslim faithful of a fatwa by the state mufti stating that non-Muslims are allowed to engage in their religious festivities, but only on “condition that the celebrations are not publicized or displayed openly to Muslims.”

“These enforcement measures are … intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community,” the Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a statement reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.

The decision by Brunei’s ruler Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah last year to enact Shariah law prompted a boycott of the hotels he owns — including the Beverly Hills Hotel — by Hollywood celebrities including Jay Leno. Under the penal code reported last year, those engaging in homosexuality could face death by stoning and thieves could face amputation.

6 Shocking New Discoveries About Jesus of Nazareth

Shutterstock

The entrance to the Mary of Nazareth International Center in central Nazareth doesn’t look like much. It’s just a simple doorway off narrow Casa Nova Street, a few hundred yards from the Basilica of the Annunciation.

Yet inside this recently built Catholic evangelism center lies an amazing discovery that has sent shockwaves through the world of Biblical archaeology: the remains of a first-century stone house reliably dated to the early Roman period in Palestine.

Shutterstock

The Nazareth excavations are the first concrete archaeological proof that Nazareth was settled in the time of Jesus – and, judging from the limestone cups found at the site, almost certainly by observant Jews.

This shoots down one of the central arguments used by those who claim that Jesus never existed and that the Gospels are entirely fiction: that we know Jesus of Nazareth never existed because there never was a village called Nazareth.

Incredibly, the archaeological excavations at Nazareth are merely one among dozens of startling recent discoveries that are forcing many secular, Jewish and agnostic scholars, at top universities all over the world, to re-think old skeptical ideas about who Jesus was and what he was trying to achieve.

Many people in the pews, however, haven’t heard about these amazing, very recent discoveries.

Experts in the media are still repeating the same century-old, increasingly discredited theories that date to the late 19th and early 20th century – for example, that Jesus was an “apocalyptic prophet” who believed the world was coming to an end in his lifetime or that he was a revolutionary “zealot” who plotted a violent overthrow of Roman forces.

Nevertheless, recent dramatic archaeological discoveries and developments in New Testament studies are challenging these older, now obsolete theories:

Discovery No. 1: The people and places mentioned in the Gospels really existed.

Like most figures of ancient history, there is little archaeological evidence for many New Testament figures, including Jesus. However, in just the past few years archaeologists have uncovered some astonishing finds – including the burial box (ossuary) of the high priest Caiaphas and, perhaps, that of James the Just, the brother, step-brother or close relative of Jesus.

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Experts widely believe the Caiaphas ossuary is genuine. While there is fierce debate about the James ossuary, it’s possible that it too is authentic. Dated to the first century, it has inscribed on its side the words in Aramaic, Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua (James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus).

Some archaeologists believe that the ossuary and the words “James, Son of Joseph” inscribed on it are authentic, dating back to the first century, but that the words “brother of Jesus” were added later by a master forger.

If all of it is genuine, however, as some evangelical scholars such as Ben Witherington III argue, then it represents the first ever archaeological confirmation of Jesus.

Along with these finds are numerous recent archaeological discoveries of places mentioned in the Gospels – such as the dramatic 2009 discovery of a large and remarkably ornate first-century synagogue at Magdala, on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus almost certainly preached.

Discovery No. 2: Jesus’ followers didn’t make up the idea of a messiah who would suffer and die.

For more than a century, many academic Bible scholars have claimed that the Jews in Jesus’ time had no concept whatsoever of a suffering messiah, let alone a messiah who would actually die.

Therefore, they suspected the whole idea was invented by the early Christian community and put into the mouth of Jesus decades later, by the evangelists. The Jews in Jesus’ day expected the messiah to be a military leader and king, the argument goes, so obviously a suffering messiah is just a Christian apologetic device created after the fact to explain away the scandal of the cross.

But in 2008, Israeli archaeologists announced the discovery of a first-century stone tablet, written in ancient Hebrew, that mentioned the angel Gabriel and a messianic figure who would suffer, die and perhaps rise again in three days.

Image source: Wikimedia Image source: Wikimedia

Known as the Gabriel Revelation, this was dramatic confirmation of other textual discoveries that suggested many Jews in the first century were expecting a suffering and dying messiah.

This is important because it shows that this theme – that of a suffering messiah – wasn’t just “made up” by the early Christian community as a way to explain the scandal of the cross, as literally generations of scholars have claimed for over a hundred years.

Discovery No. 3: Jesus’ earliest followers – Jewish followers – came to see him as in some way divine very early, perhaps within a year or two of the crucifixion.

Through a variety of methods, including identifying Aramaic phrases embedded in the Greek texts of the New Testament, scholars have identified the very earliest parts of the New Testament writings.

Much to their shock, however, it looks as though it was the Jewish followers of Jesus who proclaimed him “son of God” and “standing at the right hand of God,” not the pagan Gentile followers who joined the movement in the decades after the crucifixion.

This flies in the face of a century of scholarship that believed the opposite, that claims to divinity only arose as the Jesus movement fanned out into the pagan Greek. Even skeptics such as New Testament scholar and bestselling author Bart Ehrman now concede that belief in Jesus’s divinity arose very, very early.

This photo, released by The British Library Tuesday April 17 2012, shows a page in the St. Cuthbert Gospel, a remarkably preserved palm-sized book which is a manuscript copy of the Gospel of John in Latin which was bought from the British branch of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), the library said Tuesday April 17, 2012. The small book - 96 mm (3.8 inches) by 136 mm (5.4 inches) - has an elaborately tooled red leather cover. It comes from the time of St. Cuthbert, who died in 687, and it was discovered inside his coffin at Durham Cathedral when it was reopened in 1104. (AP Photo / The British Library) This photo, released by The British Library Tuesday April 17 2012, shows a page in the St. Cuthbert Gospel, a remarkably preserved palm-sized book which is a manuscript copy of the Gospel of John in Latin which was bought from the British branch of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), the library said Tuesday April 17, 2012. The small book – 96 mm (3.8 inches) by 136 mm (5.4 inches) – has an elaborately tooled red leather cover. It comes from the time of St. Cuthbert, who died in 687, and it was discovered inside his coffin at Durham Cathedral when it was reopened in 1104. (AP Photo / The British Library)

In addition, some Jewish scholars now argue that the idea of a divine-human savior was a thoroughly Jewish concept… rooted in the Biblical prophets. These scholars point to the biblical book of Daniel, as well as intertestamental Jewish writings known as apocalypses, as evidence that some Jews in Jesus’ day could expect “one like a Son of Man,” as Dan. 7:13–14 puts it, coming on the clouds of heaven.

It was only later, as Judaism reacted to the rise of Christianity, that such ideas became forbidden among Jews.

Discovery No. 4: The Gospels are almost certainly based on eyewitness testimony – and, at least partially, written sources.

The whole idea of a “creative” and exclusively oral transmission of traditions about Jesus – as opposed to written sources based on eyewitness accounts – is now questioned by many top secular scholars.

The skeptical New Testament scholars of the early 20th century based their much of their theory of oral transmission on German folk tales that evolve over centuries, such as the Brothers Grimm. The idea was that the “tale grew in the telling,” like the “telephone game.”

“The stories were being told by word of mouth, year after year, decade after decade, among lots of people in different parts of the world, in different languages, and there was no way to control what one person said to the next about Jesus’ words and deeds,” explains skeptic Bart Ehrman in his 2014 book, “How Jesus Became God.”

Shutterstock Shutterstock

The implication is often that the gospels are more myth than history, and certainly not reliable records of what actually occurred.

But increasingly, leading New Testament scholars reject this unproven theory altogether. Some argue that the Gospels, including the Gospel of John, show numerous signs of first-hand observations and written sources — and that those sources could well have been written while Jesus was living and preaching in Galilee.

The British New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham, author of the 2006 book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses,” has forced a new debate on the existence of eyewitness testimony in the Gospels.

In addition, many Jewish scholars now believe the Gospels preserve accurate traditions about Jesus from people who saw and heard Jesus first-hand.

As the Israeli scholar David Flusser put it, who believes the Gospels were based on written sources, the synoptic gospels “preserve a picture of Jesus that is more reliable than is generally acknowledged.”

Discovery No. 5: The Gospel of Mark, widely considered to be the first gospel written, may have been penned only five or 10 years after the crucifixion, not 40 years later as scholars have thought for over a century.

Many (but not all) modern scholars believe that the gospel of Mark was likely written first, probably in Rome in the late 60s or early 70s AD, followed by Luke in the mid-80s, Matthew in the 80s, and then by John sometime after AD 90.

The reason is due to passages in the gospels where Jesus seems to be predicting the fall of Jerusalem (such as Mark 13:2, where Jesus refers to the temple and says, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another”).

The idea is that the writers of the gospels, living after the Jewish War began in AD 66, simply put words in Jesus’ mouth predicting the coming catastrophe—words that he didn’t actually say. Scholars call this “prophecy after the fact.”

But recently James Crossley, a secular British New Testament scholar at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, has challenged this idea.

Photo: B Calkins/Shutterstock Photo: B Calkins/Shutterstock

In a fascinating 2004 book, “The Date of Mark’s Gospel,” Crossley defies more than a century of New Testament scholarship to argue that the gospel of Mark, far from being written in the late AD 60s or even early 70s as older scholars have long believed, could well have been written as early as the mid 30s—perhaps just five to ten years after Jesus was crucified.

He insists that the “desolating sacrilege” mentioned in Mark 13 that would be “set up” could very likely refer to the statue of the Emperor Caligula that the mad emperor attempted to have erected in the Jerusalem temple in AD 39-40.

If he’s right, and Mark was written in the late AD 30s, that means that some of the earliest source material for the gospels was put to paper within five to ten years after Jesus’ crucifixion—and not thirty, forty, or sixty years, as previous scholars believed.

This strengthens the argument, therefore, that the gospels are likely based on eyewitness testimony, even if that testimony was often rearranged according to the editorial decisions of the different evangelists.

Discovery No. 6: Jesus was not an “illiterate peasant” but likely well trained in Jewish law and scripture.

In the past few decades, Jewish scholars have taken a closer look at the debates in the Gospels between Jesus and the Pharisees.

For much of the 20th century, skeptical New Testament scholars claimed that these debates were not historical – that the reflected the conflicts the early church was having with Jewish authorities in the 80s and 90s and not what Jesus said and did in the 20s.

But many Jewish experts now deny this. In addition, some Jewish scholars argue that the Gospels prove that Jesus had a thorough command of Jewish legal reasoning.

According to Orthodox Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, when Jesus is criticized for healing a crippled man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-47), Jesus quotes a legal precedent preserved in the Talmud to prove that his action is justified.

Boteach explains that the Torah commands that a male child be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, but if that day happens to fall on the Sabbath, the circumcision is still allowed even though it is “drawing blood.”

The Talmud draws from this exception the notion that medical procedures can and must be done on the Sabbath. According to Tractate Yoma, “if circumcision, which concerns one of the 248 members of the body, overrides the Sabbath, shall not a man’s whole body override the Sabbath?”

Boteach then points to the nearly identical reasoning used by Jesus for his justification of healing a crippled man on the Sabbath, recorded by John: “Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses may not be broken,” Jesus says, “why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? (7:23 NIV).

This suggests that Jesus was not an “illiterate peasant”—as many contemporary authors claim—but a highly trained rabbi fully conversant with the complex legal and religious debates in his day.

Conclusion

In the end, there has been a veritable revolution in New Testament scholarship over the last 10 or 20 years yet few experts in the media seem to know about it.

The foundational assumptions that guided a century’s worth of skepticism towards the New Testament have been under relentless assault – and often by secular, Jewish and agnostic scholars at top universities around the world.

The new discoveries discussed above are causing some experts to wonder if the basic portrait of Jesus in the gospels is far more plausible than the elaborate reconstructions created by academic skeptics over the past 150 years.

In other words, the New Testament may be truer than scholars once thought… and Jesus of Nazareth, rather than being smaller than the gospels portray him, may actually be much bigger… and far more interesting.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

Christmases Past and Future

A nativity scene of Christmas is displayed in a museum in Asuncion, Paraguay,  December 22, 2012. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

It is Christmas and we all think back on Christmases past not without a bit of nostalgia for what the feast represents. We think back on Christmas trees, manger scenes and midnight Masses. We recall family dinners, marveling children and Christmas carols. Such memories fill us with joys in a brutal world ever more joyless.

The celebration of Christmas is part of our long Christian tradition. It is not only the personal memories that so capture the imagination but our participation in this long tradition that spans centuries. We all are part not only of our own celebrations but we also share in celebrations in all places and all times that have welcomed the Christ Child. Whether in magnificent cathedrals or humble chapels, in good times or bad, in full freedom or in prisons, all these Christmases truly become ours and we rightly savor them.

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

This is the great beauty of true tradition. Through it, we are able to participate in those good things of the past–and provide them a future. True tradition preserves and passes down the essence of what is most good and valuable. It preserves that which we experience and want to savor. It allows us to share joyfully with others in our families, communities and nation a common practice that celebrates our identity and makes us who we are.

There are those who do not understand tradition. They associate it with stagnation, abuses and restraint. They do not realize that true tradition is an affirmation and projection of one’s personality and family over time. They do not see that tradition is only tradition when it is good, dynamic and progressing. Tradition must be constantly purifying and perfecting itself much like the distillation process makes excellent spirits ever freer of impurities and sediment. Tradition’s memories must age over time, allowing the full flavor to appear. Thus, tradition does not distort but rather leaves us with the pure essence of reality, from which we can progress yet more.

This is especially true of Christmas. In this case, the reality is so overwhelmingly magnificent that it is hard not to be overawed with wonder and delight. On that ineffable night when our Savior was born to Mary Ever Virgin, an immense impossibility became possible: the God-man was born. The path to our redemption was opened. It made possible a Christian order in which the Commandments and counsels were practiced.

Thus, the celebration of Christmas Eve is impregnated with the notion of the birth of Our Savior where, in that holy and silent night, one can sense the irresistible sweetness and perfection that emanates from the Divine Infant in the manger in Bethlehem. Christmas thus calls and invites us to celebrate and observe our holy traditions.

We are called to do this in a neo-pagan and commercialized world that tries to take Christ out of Christmas. Yet, the power of Christ is ironically highlighted not diminished by these efforts. Despite all the forces that conspired against Him, the celebration of the birth of this tiny Child stops Wall Street trading, defies communist dictators and illuminates ugly modern buildings. This same Child also lightens the heavy hearts of those under trial and delights the innocence of little children everywhere. The Divine Infant forces us all to put aside the frenetic intemperance of our days and turn for a moment toward that which is most important—the adoration of our God.

Christian worshippers from Nigeria pray at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Our Christmas traditions still survive because we rightly hold on to the distillation of memories make sublime over the ages. Let us make this our defense against the empty din of soulless holiday spending and parties. Our joyful celebrations must vanquish the secular retailers who wage their shameless war on a merry Christmas. Our public displays must welcome the Christ Child who is banished from the public square.

If we do this, our efforts will make future Christmas memories yet more sublime. For in saner times to come, it will be recalled that when Christ was abandoned by a postmodern world, there were those who remained faithful to God and upheld their traditions. There were those sublime Christians who defied the world and joined with Christians from all times and all places, joyfully proclaiming: Puer natus est nobis, Et filius datus est nobis. “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us.”(Is. 9:6)

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.